With their recently purchased five-level, 4,700-square-foot townhome in northern Virginia as an archetype, last year the Colwells started MyGreenCottage.com. The company specializes in outfitting clean, energy-efficient custom homes that improve occupants’ health and have a neutral effect on the planet.
But as the adage goes, it isn’t easy being green—or, at least it wasn’t at first for an early adopter. “The whole thing began about 35 years ago. I became a vegetarian when it was still considered a very strange thing to do,” recalls Cerphe (a family name pronounced “surf”), a legendary Washington-area disc jockey. He’s famous for originally “breaking” Bruce Springsteen on the radio back in 1973 and for hosting the local concert that would become Little Feat’s blockbuster live album, Waiting for Columbus. “That was around the same time that I started on air. I was a visual arts student at American University. They let us crazy hippies play our music during the overnights at a Big Band station in Bethesda.”
Quickly transitioning from Frank Sinatra to Frank Zappa, the station would soon evolve into one of the East Coast’s most iconic, cutting-edge rock stations ever: WHFS. Cerphe helped symbolize a musical movement there for nearly a decade before commencing a long tenure with Infinity Broadcasting in the 1980s, for many years at the powerhouse WJFK-FM. The 55-year-old Cerphe now hosts the afternoon drive-time show on 94.7 FM. He says he works standing up during the whole five hours he’s at the station.
“I have a passion for being healthy. Anything you can do—exercise, yoga, meditation—will help ‘the machine’ and help you in the world.” You only have to glance around the Colwells’ sleek yet funky, Stanley Martin attached home to glean their devotion to the intertwined pursuits of physical and spiritual health, music, and eco-friendliness.
Just the fact that it’s an attached home with a southern exposure makes it green. “Townhouses require less land and materials to build and place less of a load on resources than do single-family homes,” Susan Colwell notes. The vast, low E-coating windows are not only energy efficient but also allow for a feeling of organic warmth in the loft-like great room.
Flanked by a raised deck overlooking the picturesque lake, the combined living room, dining room and open kitchen offers contemporary comfort with more than a hint of individuality. With occasional consultation from Washington, DC, interior designer Michael Fritz, the Colwells decorated the place themselves using local, easily accessible retailers.
The rugs come from Pottery Barn. Crate & Barrel supplied the dining table and the black leather Italian-inspired dining chairs, as well as the aluminum outdoor furniture. Other upholstered pieces came from Random Harvest Studio. Concrete Jungle crafted their two custom fireplaces. A cabinet made of renewable bamboo from Theodore’s stands adjacent to the great room’s vivid and most personal statement: Cerphe’s collection of more than 8,000 CDs, arranged in alphabetical order.
“Sure, you could put all this music on an iPod,” he allows, pointing to the extensive mounted library, “but look at my wall treatment! I like the old school retro of it. I like seeing my music. It’s comforting.”
Nearby, next to a massive Saguaro cactus skeleton that the pair attached to the roof of their car and drove back themselves all the way from Arizona, an amp and two 1960s-era Fender guitars and a newer acoustic one rest ready for Cerphe’s solo weekend jam sessions. “Eric Clapton, I’m not,” he smiles.
An acrylic-on-paper, pop art portrait of Albert Einstein by Belgian artist Jean Francois Detaille, acquired at a local Habitat for Humanity auction, overlooks the main space. Its expressive color and playfully impulsive technique reflect the discriminating cool of the dwelling and its owners.
In keeping with their ecological mission, Benjamin Moore’s line of low-VOC paint, other non-off-gassing materials, L.E.D. lighting, Energy Star certified appliances, low-flow plumbing fixtures and composite outdoor decking made of reclaimed wood and plastic are used where possible throughout the home. Wall colors everywhere combine an affirmation of nature with a hip flare in fresh variations of pumpkin orange, walnut brown and leafy green.
Proceed down to the home’s lowest level to find Cerphe’s office/production studio. Flooring made of renewable cork serves both an acoustic and conservationist function.
On the interim floor between that and the great room—“the Zen den” level, as they call it—the Colwells have a spot dedicated to body and soul. The combined home gym and meditation area reflect their Omni-denominational, Buddhist fusion credo. “We’re spiritual but not religious,” Susan says. An antique Burmese Buddha resides atop a wooden stand with a cross, rescued from an old church. “It’s an Eastern icon on a Western altar,” she observes. On the same floor is Susan’s office, where she runs MyGreenCottage.com as its president. A licensed builder with five years of experience as a construction company representative, the 40-year-old entrepreneur grew up in Alexandria, Virginia, and began her professional life in travel journalism and radio broadcasting. That’s, of course, how she met Cerphe.
They became friends while working at the same station in 1990. But as they were both in and out of other relationships with precision bad timing, it would be another eight years before romance finally bloomed. Cerphe called Susan out of the blue one day, quipping, “Hey, I think we better hurry up and start dating before one of us gets married again!”
On the top floor is the couple’s tailored but cozy master suite—with most of the furniture by Ralph Lauren for Bloomingdales—including bedroom, bath and sitting room. Hanging above a sofa in the sitting room is a gold record of Springsteen’s Born to Run album presented to Cerphe by CBS Records in 1976. “It’s one of my most prized possessions,” the music connoisseur concedes.
On the floor below the master suite is an open gallery, which overlooks the great room and the lake beyond. It serves as an entryway and gallery with more prized rock memorabilia in the form of rare original photographs, including two taken by Linda McCartney in the 1960s and acquired through Georgetown’s Govinda Gallery.
It’s all a testament to the Colwells’ conviction that you can have both what looks good and what is good. “You really don’t have to make a choice,” Susan insists. “You can have things that are beautiful, meaningful and green.” As their new business gears up to market its log home, timber frame and conventional home packages—offering such options as mass insulation, geothermal and solar energy systems, clean air furnaces and eco-friendly building materials in prearranged or custom adapted floor plans—Cerphe’s current radio station, WARW-FM, has jumped on the pro-planet bandwagon.
He helped inspire the recent format change at the station, now referred to as “94.7 The Globe.” The programming emphasizes environmental awareness both in content and in its operation. Among other practices, it will pay a premium to Pepco in order to power itself through wind-generated energy. Adding to Cerphe’s rock-solid credentials, how’s that for an encore?
Sally Kline, a Washington-area arts and culture writer for 16 years, is a regular contributor to Home & Design. Photographer Michael Ventura is a based in Silver Spring, Maryland.
In the great room, a pop art portrait of Albert Einstein acquired
at a Habitat for Humanity auction, hangs above the fireplace.
"Wall Art" in the dining room area consists of Cerphe's collection
of 8,000 compact discs.